About Caucus







May 15, 2001

The Transit Zone: Strategy and Balance

Mr. Edward H. Jurith
Acting Director
Office of National Drug Control Strategy


Good afternoon.  Chairman Grassley, Ranking member Biden, and distinguished members of the Caucus. All of us at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) thank you for your longstanding support and interest in all aspects of drug control policy, as well as the leadership of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.  We appreciate this opportunity to discuss our national interdiction policy. 

Over the last five years, interdiction has played a vital role in successful drug control in cocaine source countries.  Interdiction is a critical element in a multifaceted strategy that has produced major disruptions in the cocaine industry in Peru and Bolivia and contributed to a 17 percent reduction in overall potential global cocaine production.  Interdiction also continues to play an important supporting role in the transit zone.  Transit zone operations assist democratically elected governments battling powerful international trafficking organizations while reinforcing the efforts of our own law enforcement agencies to bring these international criminals to justice.  A successful national interdiction policy must ensure a balanced approach that continues to focus our priority effort in the cocaine source zone where trafficking activity is concentrated and vulnerable, while maintaining sufficient forces in the transit zone to respond to intelligence, layer our defenses, and support our allies.

Supply Reduction and the National Drug Control Strategy

The National Drug Control Strategy is a balanced plan to reduce the demand for illegal drugs through prevention and treatment, reduce drug-related crime and violence through law enforcement, and reduce the supply of illegal drugs through interdiction and eradication programs coupled with increased international cooperation.  Although reducing the demand for illegal drugs is the centerpiece of the National Drug Control Strategy, supply reduction is an essential component of a well-balanced strategic approach to drug control.  Supply reduction programs complement demand reduction efforts and are essential to a well-balanced strategic approach to drug control.  Cheap and readily available drugs undercut the effectiveness of demand reduction efforts because they draw in new users and increase the population of potential addicts.  Supply reduction
programs reduce availability; hold down the number of first-time users; prevent aggressive marketing of illegal drugs to the most at-risk population by criminal drug organizations; and reduce the human, social, and economic costs of drug trafficking and abuse.

Internationally, supply reduction includes coordinated interdiction; investigations; drug crop eradication; control of precursors; anti-money-laundering initiatives; alternative development linked to eradication; strengthening of public institutions; foreign assistance; and diplomatic support for drug control policies and initiatives of partner nations.  These programs are implemented synergistically through bilateral, regional, and global accords.  They not only reduce the volume of illegal drugs that reach the U.S., they also attack the power and pocketbook of international criminal organizations that threaten our national security, strengthen democratic institutions in allied nations suffering the consequences of illegal drug trafficking and consumption, and honor our international commitments to cooperate against illegal drugs.

The Role of Interdiction

Interdiction of U.S.-bound drugs is only one aspect of a complementary, balanced supply reduction strategy.  Interdiction is conducted in all three zones (source, transit, and arrival) by varied interagency and/or international players and strategies with the express intent of limiting the supply of illicit drugs worldwide and raising the cost and risk of doing business to international criminal organizations.  Interdiction plays different roles in different regions.  From source countries to the U.S. border, U.S. unilateral, bilateral, and regional interdiction programs seize drug shipments, stop the flow of precursor chemicals, intercept and confound attempts to launder the drug monies, and target trafficking organizations and their infrastructure.  In source countries, interdiction plays a more critical role in the strategy and can itself disrupt the production process by eliminating key transportation nodes that link growing areas to labs and markets.  Since 1995, hemispheric interdiction activities have yielded coca seizures that average about 220 metric tons annually.

The illicit industry that cultivates coca and produces, transports, and markets cocaine is vulnerable to effective law enforcement action.  Coca, the raw material for cocaine, is produced exclusively in the Andean region of South America.  U.S. intelligence knows precisely the geographic coordinates of the growing areas.  Trafficking routes must link to these growing areas to move precursor chemicals into cocaine labs and cocaine products out towards the market. Coca cultivation and production is labor intensive and requires sufficient infrastructure to feed and house the labor force and provide sufficient transportation to support the production process and move product to market.   The industry can only thrive in geographic areas devoid of effective law enforcement control.

Interdiction can play a vital role in the establishment of effective law enforcement control over coca cultivation and production regions. Source country interdiction
supports our international drug control strategy in two ways.  Directly, interdiction assures that the illegal drugs captured or destroyed will do no further harm.  Indirectly, and more powerfully, interdiction fundamentally disrupts illegal drug production when it eliminates a link in the production chain.

The cocaine industry in Peru has suffered long-term disruption due to the successful implementation of a synchronized, coordinated, multifaceted U.S.-supported Peruvian drug control campaign that included vital interdiction, alternative development, eradication, and expanded law enforcement programs.  The interdiction program achieved the first, vital disruption of the industry, depressed prices received by coca farmers, and established conditions for successful alternative development and law enforcement programs.  By first destroying the profitability of coca, long-term drug control successes were achieved in Peru without risk of violent confrontation with the coca labor force. 

It is noteworthy as well that law enforcement and interdiction programs are mutually reinforcing. Intelligence developed by monitoring routes and supporting interdiction programs is useful for the sort of investigations undertaken by the DEA.  Route information can also be obtained or amplified through law enforcement cases.

The Current Transit Zone Threat

We define the transit zone as the area encompassing the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Central America and Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean.  This six million square-mile area is roughly the size of the continental United States.  Drugs coming to the United States from South America pass through this zone. Currently about 95 percent of cocaine is transported through the transit zone via maritime conveyance, the vast majority of that by noncommercial means.

As shown in figure 1, 66 percent of cocaine destined for our country was shipped through the Mexico-Central America Corridor, 31 percent through the Caribbean Corridor, and 3 percent directly to the continental United States in 2000. About 50 percent of the detected cocaine flow to the United States transited the Eastern Pacific Vector, most of which was noncommercial maritime movement directly to Mexico.

Interdiction in the Transit Zone

Interdiction in the transit zone serves at least three important functions: (1) seizes significant quantities of illicit drugs so that they can do no further harm; and (2) provides a quick reaction to particular threats posed by drug traffickers and (3) puts drug criminals and their agents at risk to law enforcement action.  Small nation-states in the Caribbean and Central America are vulnerable to predatory international trafficking organizations.  Many of these nations lack the resources and the institutions to protect their sovereign land, air, and sea space and their judicial, financial, and political systems are often incapable of effective response to the international criminal threat.  U.S. law enforcement, with the support of U.S. military air and maritime assets and in concert with our allies and regional partners, also conduct law enforcement operations complementary to interdiction efforts in this region.

In contrast to source zone conditions, traffickers have the advantage in the transit zone and can choose when, where, and how to challenge interdiction forces as long as they can evade our intelligence efforts.  Traffickers alter their routes and methods in response to interdiction operations, always seeking the secure paths with the least resistance and the most profits.  Over the past five years, they have reduced their transit zone vulnerabilities by shifting from non-commercial aircraft to maritime methods, quickly altering routes in response to effective law enforcement operations, and relying on advanced technology such as satellite navigation systems and secure communications.

Despite these strategic challenges, transit zone operations yield an average of 76 metric tons of cocaine in seizures each year, the majority coming from the Mexico-Central American corridor.  The Coast Guard, working from their own ships as well as from U.S., British and Dutch Navy ships, has proven effective in disrupting the maritime shipment of illicit drugs through the transit zone.  For 2000, Coast Guard supported cocaine seizures reached a record level of 60 metric tons. The efforts of U. S. law enforcement-DEA, FBI, and USCS-are also complementary and supportive of our interdiction efforts, providing drug trafficking intelligence to and receiving it from the interdiction operational organizations.  U.S. Customs Service air platforms have assisted in the detection and monitoring, and pursuit of suspect aircraft throughout the region.  DoD’s command and control system provides the communications connectivity and information system backbone in the region while the military services detection and monitoring assets provide a much need intelligence cueing capability.

While we strive for a balanced strategy, the interdiction effort in the transit zone continues to be challenged by the high volume of drug traffic, the immense size of the region and the ease with which traffickers switch modes and routes.  Strategic realities dictate we cannot rely on massive flying and steaming hours and “cold hit” seizures in the transit zone.  Efforts to interdict the flow of illicit drugs require sophisticated, technologically advanced forces and must be based on predictive intelligence and information sharing.  Transit zone interdiction operations must constantly adapt, keeping traffickers off balance, while strengthening transit nations’ law enforcement agencies and building cooperative relationships with their governments and authorities.

Some examples of transit zone operations follow:

Campaign STEEL WEB is the Coast Guard’s multiyear campaign plan to combat the dynamic maritime drug trafficking threat.  Its purpose is to deny drug smugglers access to non-commercial maritime routes by a sequence of coordinated operations placing interdiction forces in high threat areas of the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. STEEL WEB is fully aligned with Goal 4 (Shield America’s air, land and sea frontiers from the drug threat) and Goal 5 (Break foreign and domestic drug sources of supply) of the National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS), and complements the contributions of our law enforcement (Customs, DEA, FBI, local LEAs) and DoD partners in this effort.  STEEL WEB depends upon international combined maritime operations. Partnering with law enforcement officials of other nations helps develop indigenous interdiction forces, and enhances the cumulative impact of interdiction efforts directed at drug traffickers in the region. Combined operations with other nations’ maritime forces also provide practical training for all participating personnel.

Operation CARIBE VENTURE: International effort to deny smugglers the use of maritime routes along the islands of the eastern Caribbean. Participating nations are the US, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominican Republic and  Antigua/Barbuda. During 2000, two CARIBE VENTURE operations were conducted, each of approximately five months’ duration.

Operation FRONTIER LANCE: This U.S./Haiti/Dominican Republic effort to deny smugglers the use of maritime routes into Hispaniola was inactive during 2000, due to the continued absence of a credible law enforcement and judicial infrastructure in Haiti.

Operation RIP TIDE: A combined U.S./Jamaica/Grand Caymans (UK) effort to deny smugglers the use of maritime smuggling routes into Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. RIP TIDE was conducted twice during 2000.

Operation ALLIED STRENGTH: U.S./Belize combined operation conducted periodically pursuant to the US/BH counterdrug bilateral agreement. This operation was previously conducted in support of the combined CENTRAL SKIES interagency campaign (DEA, USCS, DOD) in Central America.

Operation LIFESAVER: U.S./Honduras combined operation conducted in support of CENTRAL SKIES. Maritime counterdrug effort is supported by Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) provided by JIATF East, and complements a US/HO combined effort employing the ground and air forces of JTF Bravo. Operation SEGURIDAD, a combined Coast Guard/Honduran Navy maritime counterdrug effort independent of CENTRAL SKIES, was also conducted in late 2000.

Operation SCIMITAR: Combined operation with the Bahamas. This operation was conducted in the northern and central Bahamas, involving new Bahamian 60-meter patrol boats and Royal Bahamian Defense Force shipriders embarked in Coast Guard cutters.

Operation CUTLASS: Another combined operation with the Bahamas, concentrating effort on the southern Bahamas.  This operation involved U.S. Navy Patrol-Coastals with CG LEDETs, as well as RBDF’s Drug Enforcement Unit.

Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos (OPBAT): A Memorandum of Understanding with the UK, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to combat trafficking in the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. USCG contributes aircraft and aircrew on a steady-state basis. Also referred to as the TRIPART, the U.S. is a signatory to the MOU, signed in JUL 90. USCG does not provide law enforcement personnel to OPBAT. Law enforcement is carried out by Tripart Team Members (TTMs), who are either Bahamian or Turks and Caicos law enforcement authorities. The DEA provides LE officers, but they operate only to assist the TTMs and do not have law enforcement jurisdiction. In 2000, OPBAT forces, with Coast Guard support, seized 9,191 pounds of cocaine, 14,383 pounds of marijuana, arrested 84 persons and seized 14 vessels.

Coincidental Interaction with Mexico: The Coast Guard conducts “coincidental” operations with the Mexican Navy in the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific to assist the MXNAV in their counterdrug efforts. In 2000, Coast Guard provided direct support in 12 cases resulting in 11 MT of cocaine seized. Most significant of these were the F/V Valeria with 3 MT, and F/V Top Flight with 4.2 metric tons.

Interaction with Colombia: The Coast Guard has enjoyed unprecedented cooperation in maritime interdiction this past year resulting in the seizure of over 27,000 pounds of cocaine in 2000. The U.S.-Colombia Shipboarding Agreement allows the U.S. to exercise jurisdiction over CO flagged vessels located outside the CO EEZ, if the U.S. has initiated an ongoing investigation. This has significantly aided U.S. prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations. The Colombians have authorized all 78 requests for USCG boardings of Colombian flagged vessels since October 1999. Recent successful cocaine seizures as a result of the Agreement include F/V REBELDE (12,000 lbs), F/V LEYNEYD (6,000 lbs.), F/V DOUGLAS I (1,100 lbs.), and two go-fast vessels (8,195 lbs.). Consultations and joint training by DOJ and USCG with the Colombian Prosecutor General'’ Office and the Colombian Navy have ensured that the evidence recovered in such cases will be admissible in either U.S. or Colombian courts.


The National Drug Control Strategy represents a balanced approach to reducing demand for drugs through prevention and treatment, reducing domestic drug-related crime and violence through law enforcement and youth counterdrug programs, and reducing the supply of illicit drugs – with a combination of law enforcement, interdiction, and eradication.

The administration’s principal transit zone objective is to reduce the supply of drugs from source countries.  We achieve this objective by: denying smugglers the use of air and maritime routes; stopping the flow of precursor chemicals, attacking money laundering; targeting trafficking organizations and their infrastructure; and building host-nation capabilities.

The administration’s FY 2002 budget request reinforces important interdiction programs. Resources have been requested for supply-reduction programs in the Departments of State, Justice, Treasury, Transportation, and Defense that will aid efforts in Colombia and the Andean region, help implement the Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act (WHDEA), support security along the Southwest Border, and continue enforcement operations targeting domestic sources of illegal drugs.   Additional resources requested by the administration include:

Andean Counterdrug Initiative: $731 million.
Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act (WHDEA): +$278 million.
Border Control and Enforcement: $102 million
Southwest Border Drug Prosecutions: +$50 million.
DEA Law Enforcement Support: +$58 million.
Counterdrug Technology Transfer Initiative: +$4 million

The United States needs to remain vigilant. We believe that we have set the conditions to inflict long-term damage to the illegal cocaine and heroin industry in this hemisphere.  However, drops in heroin traffic from the hemisphere will almost certainly result in additional attempts to import drugs from Asia.  The future almost certainly will bring new drug threats as international criminal organizations attempt to profit from the suffering of others.  Today, ONDCP and the rest of the interagency share the Caucus’s growing concern about the use of such synthetic drugs as Methamphetamine and MDMA, better known as Ecstasy.   These drugs represent an entirely different type of threat in that they are easily concealed and do not always have a well defined, traditional “source zone.” 

All of us at ONDCP share the Caucus's interest in assuring an adequate response to the threat illegal drugs pose to the American people and we appreciate the bipartisan manner in which you have considered and supported the many initiatives that are reducing the flow of illegal drugs to American communities.